Some of the biggest names in cryptography and computer sciences condemned the US government’s surveillance practices in an open letter.

“Media reports since last June have revealed that the US government conducts domestic and international surveillance on a massive scale, that it engages in deliberate and covert weakening of Internet security standards, and that it pressures US technology companies to deploy backdoors and other data-collection features,” began the letter, posted Friday on

The list of signers reads like a Who’s of Who of cryptography and computer science in academia and private sector, and includes significant figures such as Ronald Rivest, one of the pioneers of modern public key cryptography. Shai Halevi, Bruce Schneier, and Niels Ferguson were among the 53 experts who signed the letter.

Several of the signers are ex-federal employees, including Edward Felten, the Federal Trade Commission’s first chief technologist and now the director of the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton, and Steven Bellovin, the FTC’s second chief technologist and now a professor at Columbia University. Others are currently working on research funded by defense agencies.

“As leading members of the US cryptography and information-security research communities, we deplore these practices and urge that they be changed,” said the letter.

The open letter is in response to the wave of revelations published by various media outlets over the past six months based on information from documents stolen from the National Security Agency by former contractor Edward Snowden. Last week, President Barack Obama addressed concerns related to the NSA’s domestic phone records collection program, but did not touch on reports the NSA intentionally weakened encryption standards used to secure sensitive information.

The mass-surveillance programs threaten the technological infrastructure of society, the signers warned. The U.S. government needs to adopt “state-of-the-art, privacy-preserving technology” and social and technical controls to ensure its programs don’t undermine the trust infrastructure that our increasingly digital society depends on.

“The choice is not whether to allow the NSA to spy. The choice is between a communications infrastructure that is vulnerable to attack at its core and one that, by default, is intrinsically secure for its users,” the letter said.

Fahmida Y. Rashid is an accomplished security journalist and technologist. She is a regular contributor for several publications including where she is a networking and security analyst.  She also was a senior writer at eWeek where she covered security, core Internet infrastructure and open source. As well, she was a senior technical editor at CRN Test Center reviewing open source, storage, and networking products. 

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